Feb 12

Technical translations

Technical translations are a part of specialised translations and, among others, include medical, mechanical engineering and financial texts. The reason we call them technical is due to its frequent use of field-specific terminology, which, in its spoken form, is commonly referred to as jargon.
One of my professors once told me that, in fact, technical translations were easier to do then any other type of writing and this was because their register was very formal and the content precisely structured. Her opinion could be justified by over 20 years of experience as a technical translator. Yet to my mind, technical translations can pose the most difficulty, probably due to the very subject-specific terminology they employ.

Can every translator go technical?


I would say that every good translator can translate a technical text. Another thing is that not every good translator would want to sing up for it. Why? Because the task itself involves much more responsibility then any other type of translation. Instructions on how to administer a particular drug or how to operate a fork lift can pose danger to the target language user if translated inaccurately. This inaccuracy would generally stem from lack of expert knowledge in a given subject matter and simple carelessness.
Saying that, I have to emphasise that I am not in agreement with a belief that only a medical doctor can translate medical texts or an engineer a manual for the operation of a fork lift. They definitely have the right resources (i.e. their knowledge) but not necessarily the linguistic skills.
Of course, there are translators who successfully combine these two features but more often then not, it is either the specialist knowledge or the aptitude for translating.

So, how to tackle a technical text?


There are two main things a translator has to remember about. One is to research the subject as thoroughly as possible and the other not to take anything for granted. What I mean by the latter is that a technical text can be very tricky at times so even when we think we know a particular term because, say, we translated it 20 time before, it is best to look it up yet again and check whether it definitely fits the required context.

As for doing research, I realise that our deadlines can be very tight sometimes but hastiness should not accompany any translation whatsoever as the consequences could be much more serious then if we were to miss the deadline by a few hours.

An ideal situation would be to have an expert at hand so that we could consult him or her when in doubt. Think about your family and friends as quite a few of them will have expertise in just what you need.
If the project is really big and the financial incentive is very promising, we could consider hiring a specialist who could verify our technical vocabulary. Make sure, however, that you first agree on a price that will satisfy both parties.


Remember who your target readers are as you do not want to produce a mobile phone manual that is too technical and therefore little user-friendly. When, however, translating some guidelines for medical personnel, source language “injections” should definitely read “iniekcje” and not “zastrzyki”. Once again, it is absolutely vital to know who you are translating for.

On a more optimistic note, let us hope that clients will supply you with a glossary that will ease you technical quandary.

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